An Interview with Danielle, Kris and Nick Schnebelen of Trampled Under Foot, a new Blues dynasty rising

"Blues will always live inside of other styles of music and it will never go away!"

Trampled Under Foot: Right Place, Right Time 

Siblings Danielle, Kris and Nick Schnebelen grew up with the Blues. Their parents, Bob and Lisa, were active in the thriving Kansas City Blues scene, playing in local bands and competing in the Kansas City Blues Challenge. Bob and Lisa’s band didn’t make it to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis — but their kids did. When TUF arrived in Memphis for the 2008 IBC they were followed by huge, wildly enthusiastic throngs of hometown supporters, eager to cheer for their favorite musical family. And when TUF took First Place in the competition and Nick won the Albert King award for best guitarist, it was a sweet victory for the Schnebelen family and for Kansas City itself.

TUF has been on a roll ever since, becoming popular repeat headliners at clubs, festivals and cruises around the world and releasing CDs and a DVD on their own label (TUF Records). Trampled Under Foot’s brand new CD, Wrong Side of the Blues was produced by Tony Braunagel, Nick on guitar, Danielle on Bass, Kris on Drums, and features guest appearances by Mike Finnigan, Kim Wilson, and engineer/guitarist Johnny Lee Schell. It also features one of their dad’s songs, and backup vocals by their mom. In the future, when people speak of the great Blues dynasties, musical families who breathed the same musical air and produced the highest form of the art, chances are they’ll refer to the Allmans, the Dickinsons, the Burnsides, the Brookses, the Neals… and the Schnebelens.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What does “Blues” means to you? What do you learn about yourself from the music?

Nick: To me, blues carries a lot of different meanings. Finding hope and humor in sad situations. It also means recognizing the deep connection with the people you love and have lost. I think part of the blues is also a statement about hanging on to what you got because somebody else has lost what you have and they're telling a sad story about it. It also is a great style of music to exude true raw emotion. 

What I learn about myself in blues is the truths you hear in the lyrics. Most hit home pretty well. The music is great to learn from in many different ways. Trying to learn many different styles of blues can be challenging. Slide guitar, jump blues, jazz blues, hard rock blues, country blues all have great masters to learn from.

Danielle: BLUES, to me, means raw emotion. It is the telling of your soul through music. It can't be faked and it can't be bought. It doesn't have limits and you definitely can't run from them. I learn who I am through the blues. Through the songs I write, the music I play. I learn how strong I am and also how absolutely vulnerable I feel sometimes too. 

Kris: Willie Dixon said it best in my opinion, the blues is the truth. The blues is the truth in life, love, and personal experience. Music is a great art form in which you express yourself. In expression you learn your strengths and weaknesses through experience. Music is also takes a certain amount of discipline; to be good at it you have to do it a lot. Through work you also learn about yourself.

How do you describe your sound and what characterize Trampled Under Foots philosophy?

Nick: I'll describe my sound as blues with a versatile, authentic, modern guitar sound based on melodies of the past present and hopeful future. I'm not afraid to jump into many different styles of blues.

I would say that our philosophy began with the song choices, performance process and musicianship from performing with our parents. Our parents played blues all over the Midwest in blues clubs, honky-tonks, Jazz clubs, blues festivals and that is where our foundation came from that we've built upon. We have expanded our philosophy beyond just the blues clubs and have now for a while, taken it to headlining festivals stateside and have taken it overseas, and beyond. 

Danielle: TuF's philosophy is to continue the tradition of music our parents and grand relatives infused into our beings. Generations of musicians certainly makes for a strong foundation.

Kris: I try to remain true to the style and add as much energy to the music as possible. Often times, especially in my earlier days, I focus too much on the latter; a mistake I still make from time to time but music is always a work in progress. TUF wants to give people great music from our hearts. It's that simple. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about the who, what, where's, and when's when it comes to style and writing. It's just us.

How did the band's name come and what is the story behind it?

Nick: The story behind the band name is that I wrote a song a long time ago that Danielle and Chris liked. They start it sounded like the Led Zeppelin song "Trample Underfoot". We thought it would be a great band name. So while we were all on the phone we decided to start playing together and call ourselves Trampled Under Foot. We also loved it because of the acronym TUF.

From whom have you have learned the secrets about the music and what is the best advice ever gave you?

Nick: I learned a little something from all the players I meet or listen to.

The best advice I've got so far is to be original, write your own music, and hang onto the ownership of your music the best you can and don't ever give up!

Danielle: You pick up bits and pieces so often, especially touring. I've gotten advice, both good and bad, from so many people, drunk and sober, not only musicians. You definitely have to filter through it. One of the best pieces I've ever heard is, "sometimes it's better to say no."

Kris: I have studied with a few people. Sam Johnson JR. Was my first teacher. He taught me how to read and write music. He also opened my eyes to the world of drums. My second teacher was Greg Schaberg. He taught me to play in a band and showed me how Kansas City blues is played. My third and current teacher is Go Go Ray. He is a well studied juggernaut on the drums. He knows more about drums then anyone I've spent any time with. He is a well rounded player competent in any style and lifelong student.

I look up to all of my teachers with pride and have learned much from them. I can't think of any advice that rings truer than any other. Every piece of advice is as important as you want it to be.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Nick: One of the best moments of my career would be standing onstage with my brother and sister winning "Best Blues Band" at International Blues Competition in 2008. And then immediately following that up with the 2008 Albert King Award as most promising guitarist. As a musician it feels great to be heard, validated and recognized. 

There were a few shows last year where the temperature was so freaking bad that my hands were covered in sweat and I could barely play and my eyes were shut from the burning sweat! Even though I drank 4 to 5 bottles of water, it still is unbearable!!! You just have to stand there and smile and do the best you can!

Danielle: I've had the honor of sharing the stage with a number of my dear friends, and mentors and those are too many to count but I hold each one dear to my heart. The highlight of my career so far with TuF would be performing at the 2012 BMAs. The feeling from the crowd, the whole electricity in the air, it was u describeable.

Kris: They are the same. 2008 International Blues Challenge. During our performance in the finals my drum set was falling apart. First off, the high hat clutch was missing. I always keep a spare but there are 2 different sizes and of course I had the wrong size. Without the high hat clutch a drummer cannot tighten the cymbals for one of the most important sounds on the drum set. This also gives a drummer his balance to a certain degree. Sit in a chair and lift your left foot off the ground. Now try and lift you right foot as well. Second the bass drum pedal has a clasp that holds the pedal to the drum. This was also broken. Thirdly the cymbal stand broke letting the cymbal fall so I could not hit it. To summarize, I'm playing with nothing under my left foot, my bass drum is literally running away from me and my crash cymbal is inaccessible. Then we won. Best and worst.

Now that its overall one can do is laugh. Getting to go to Norway for the first time was a complete eye opener as well. I can't wait until we go to Greece.

Which memory from Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, Robert Cray, George Thorogood, Steve Miller, James Brown, and Jon Popper makes you smile?

Nick: I start opening for Johnny Winter in Philadelphia at the TLA Theater on South Street back in 1999. My father was a huge fan so it was an amazing experience to be working with him. We did about five shows with them over the course of three years in that area and always had a great time. I got to meet him and have them sign our father's Gibson firebird pick guard. That is the same guitar I played at the IBC when we won. 

Danielle and I met Robert Cray many years ago at the TLA. Danielle was 16 and I was 20. She was sitting in with my band K-Floor at the time and when he came upstairs to the green room we got to meet him. Since then we've also seen him a number of times through our producer Tony Braunagel who played drums with him for quite a while.

My dad turned me onto Robin Trower a very long time ago and told me he was a lot like Jimi Hendrix. I was and still am affected by his style.  I really enjoyed it when we opened up for him and Jack Bruce and Gary Husband at the Notodden blues festival in Norway. Getting to see him play in person gives you an idea of how he does what he does. Very cool. 

I got to open for both Steve Miller and George Thorogood and I'm impressed at how well they've honed their crafts and how successful they have been over the years. 

I've always loved James Brown for his style, flair, ingenuity and raw talent. I got to open for him with K-Floor in Philadelphia at the Jam on the River Festival in 1999. Our organ player got to play the same organ he did! That was pretty neat.

Trampled Under Foot recently got to open for blues traveler in Kansas City at Crossroads. We had a great show and it was an awesome experience. I got to record with John Popper in New York with a band Buddahead a Brit-pop band out of New York City on a track called "Invisible". He is still very very talented- a great player as well as a great singer.

 

Which memory from Steve Hicks, Mike Finnigan, and Kim Wilson makes you smile?

Danielle: I got to work with Steve for a few years. He's such a great storyteller and warm soul. He taught me a lot on bass, whether he knows it or not.

Working with Mike Finnigan is and always will be an absolute honor. His smile is infectious and he's got this aura about him. It's crazy. We had him for a few songs on Wrong Side and when he said he'd do the new album with us, we decided he needed to be all over it.  I think there are only a couple of the songs that he's not on.

We weren't able to record with Kim, he came into the studio after we left. However, I have been fortunate enough to share the stage with him a few times and even got to back him up when he came to Kansas City a few years back. He has such an unmistakable style and I'm so grateful to have him on the Wrong Side album.

 

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

Danielle: The most memorable jams for me happen on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. You get to perform with so many musicians that you don't usually get to. With jams every night, you have the time to hang with everyone you normally see in passing.  Last year's October Cruise, Susan Tedeschi and I started some rumors about an all women show, by the time we were there; it was Sista Monica Parker, Ruthie Foster, Samantha Banks, Tanya Richardson, Dianna Bogart, Samantha Fish, Ana Popovic, and myself. That's just one of the more recent.

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Danielle: The blues is reality.  The blues is honest, it's relatable.  You can feel it, dance to it, and be inspired by it. 

Kris: It is the truth and the foundation of American music. I'm sure, years from now this will fade but one can always retrace the steps of American music and find themselves and the merger of country and blues.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Nick: I would give aspiring musicians much of the same advice I got. Be original, own your music and keep writing the best songs you can. Work with the best people that you can and never give up!

Danielle: Always practice Always keep writing

Kris: The music is about 20% of it. Playing music makes you a musician. Selling music makes you a business man. Get hip to the ins and outs of the music business and stay current in this.

What's the legacy of Blues in world culture and civilization? Give one wish for the BLUES

Nick: I see a large revival happening as we speak in the blues. If you listen to a lot of commercials on television, in the states they have a lot of blues music roots music guitar driven country music of that nature spilling into our daily lives. It can take one great band to spring another wave of blues, but there has to be an audience there to receive it. I wish for the blues to become again more popular in its own artform. Blues will always live inside of other styles of music and it will never go away!

Danielle: My wish for the blues is for the continuation of youths getting involved.  It's the only way to keep it going.  I just want to leave a world where the Blues is still thriving.

Kris: The legacy is that blues is the foundation of most modern American music and American culture influences the world over. A far as my wish, I would love for blues to get a little more attention on a national level. I'm my opinion blues is great music and there is always a need/want for great music.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Danielle: Absolutely.  The blues is feeling, and it therefore timeless. 

Which meet have been the biggest experiences for you? What is your music DREAM? Happiness is……

Nick: The biggest experiences have been getting to travel the entire US many times and getting to travel overseas and see places I would of otherwise probably never see in my life. Getting to meet other artists famous or not, is really cool, but the best experiences happen onstage, on the road, in the studio. 

Happiness is doing what you love and working hard at it.

Danielle: My dream is to be able to tour with my family with me.  Beyond my brothers.  I miss a lot of time from home and it really hurts being away from my son Elijah and his father Travis so much.

Kris: The people I've shared my life with the last 4 years have been great. I'm not too interested in meeting people that I like to watch perform. To me the performance isn't the person. I like people and I like music. I just don't care to meet famous people. My music dream is to help build a future for my family using a profession that makes us happy.

What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from the old days of Blues and Jazz?

Nick: I love good old acoustic blues but with all of the electric music being played there's such a smaller niche for it now. I love to hear the old stuff because that's what we listened to growing up. Mainly because you hear a lot of new stuff these days which I like just as much, but I love that blues piano played like the old days. As a youngster, Iowa's felt like the blues piano seat in the band was the shaman's seat. The guitar was simple, the bass was simple, the drums were simple, but the piano was all over the place! I missed that old-style. 

Kris: I started touring about 5 years ago. I'm not the most qualified person to answer this I'm sure. I don't see it as missing it. There are many different types of blues. There are many different ways of performing blues as well. To me the styles are just different.

Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues?

Nick: I believe rock 'n roll took a left turn from it's blues brother in the early 70s. It then went to punk and disco and heavy metal and what we now know as rock music. I believe that some blues music I could be coined "traditional" rock. With the super distorted guitars, slamming drums and screaming vocals, i could see where that would be considered rock music- A little out of the blues realm but like I said, the blues is inside a lot of American roots genres.

Danielle: The only thing I would think it that when you hear the word "Blues" the younger generations tend to think of old, and depressing thoughts.  That's not the case.  I've been in the blues for over half my life now, and there's so much life and light to it.

Kris: The only grievance I have with the word blues is that typically blues is associated with old, archaic, worn out, or something my grandparents listen to. The blues is modern, energetic, vibrant, soulful and some of the best live music you can see.

Do you know why Blues Jazz is connected to the avant-garde, bohemian, and underground culture?

Nick: I think the reason why blues jazz is connected to the avant-garde, Bohemian, and underground culture is that those folks find value and seek out music and what is deeper than what commercial radio has to offer.

Kris: Again that is because the blues is associated with old. The music originated from slaves. The old slave owners tried so hard to suppress the African cultures. Because of this the underground culture arose. As time went on and slavery and racism eroded and exposed this great culture and music that is blues.

Trampled Under Foot - Official website

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